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The Zoo’s Rodrigues fruit bats live in a colony of five animals – one male and four females. Because the bats are all very similar in appearance, each wears a colored band attached to a part of the wing called the “thumb”. This color-coding allows keepers to tell individuals apart.
Two members of Philadelphia Zoo's conservation team recently traveled to Rodrigues to bring back more bats for our conservation program and kept a blog throughout their trip.
Rare Animal Conservation Center
In captivity, the average lifespan of this bat seems to be about 20 years. Their lifespan in the wild is currently unknown.
The Rodrigues fruit bats are very social, roosting in large colonies in the tops of emergent trees (the tallest trees in the forest). They leave the roost at twilight to feed, and return to the roost around dawn. During the night, feeding bouts are interspersed with resting that usually takes place near the feeding site. They are not echolocators, but use their eyesight for travel and to search for food. Males will vocalize, nip, or strike with their wings to defend breeding, roosting, and feeding territories from other male bats.
They exhibit a harem-type of mating system. Dominant males maintain their territories around feeding and roosting sites, but females have been observed mating with both territorial and non-territorial males.
Gestation lasts for approximately 150 days, after which a single pup is born. In the wild, pups are born between August and February, but in the Zoo births are not seasonal. At birth, the newborn weighs 1-1.5 ounces, and has well-developed claws to help it cling to its mother's abdomen. Pups are totally dependent on mothers until they are weaned at 70-100 days, and they remain in a close relationship with their mother for the first year.
In the 1970's, the entire world population of Rodrigues fruit bats (named for the island that makes up their only native habitat) had dropped to less than 100. Today, the species is in rebound, thanks in part to The Rodrigues Environmental Educator Project, which works with school, community, government and business groups to encourage and support Rodrigues' unique plants and animals. The Educator Project was initiated in 1998 by The Philadelphia Zoo, and today is supported by a consortium of U.S. zoos, bat conservation organizations, and private donors.
1.5-2 feet in wingspan
In the wild, these bats eat wild figs, guavas, bananas, breadfruits, mangoes, papayas, and other aromatic ripe fruits, and the flowers and leaves of many local and introduced plant species. In the Zoo, they eat fruit nectar fortified with vitamins and minerals, fresh fruits and vegetables.
These bats live solely on Rodrigues Island, in the Indian Ocean about 900 miles east of Madagascar.
On the 2011 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Rodrigues fruit bat is listed as Critically Endangered.
In 1976 and 1979, a small number of bats were collected to found a captive breeding program as a hedge against possible extinction on Rodrigues. The population grew steadily and in 1982, the Philadelphia Zoo joined the team of zoos breeding and exhibiting Rodrigues fruit bats. In 1995, the Zoo made a further commitment to conserving this species when curator Kim (Whitman) Lengel initiated a study of genetic variation in the captive and wild populations of bats to provide tools on which to base management decisions. Kim traveled to Rodrigues to gather bat genetic material for her study. While there, she and colleagues visited every primary school on the island, presenting an interactive program about bats to all fifth grade students using bat teaching kits created by zoo educators.
Learn more about Rodrigues fruit bat conservation efforts at Philadelphia Zoo.
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